Orioles' Key closes door on 15-year career

Left-hander chooses retirement over surgery, job as relief specialist

January 30, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Unable to continue his career as a starter and unwilling to endure another surgery, Orioles pitcher Jimmy Key announced his retirement yesterday after 15 seasons.

Key, 37, had spent the last two seasons with the Orioles after signing as a free agent in December 1996. He missed 60 games last summer while on the disabled list with an inflamed left rotator cuff, and made his final start on July 30 against Detroit.

Fourteen appearances out of the bullpen, the first 10 scoreless, left open the possibility that Key would make the transformation to left-handed relief specialist. He already had conceded that his days as a starter were over.

After four months of what he called "careful thought and reflection," Key decided the rest of his baseball life was finished, as well.

In a statement released by the Orioles, Key thanked the three organizations he worked for -- the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees are the others -- and "every player that I had the privilege to play with.

"The memories and friendships will last me a lifetime, and they are what I cherish most about my career," he said.

"I deeply appreciate the many fans that have cheered and encouraged me, both on and off the field. Without them, we as players would not have the opportunities that are made available to us."

Key had three surgeries on his left shoulder before joining the Orioles, the most recent in 1995 that cost him most of the season. His marriage two years later during the All-Star break and the satisfaction of a 186-117 career record and two world championships convinced him that a fourth procedure wasn't an option.

"He was just a consummate professional, and just unbelievable at all times," said manager Ray Miller. "Obviously he pitched good most of the time, but if things were going bad, he was no different than if things were going good -- very collected, very calm on the mound. I never saw him lose his cool. He's extremely intelligent and the kind of guy who had great physical ability. And even after a couple surgeries, he still figured some things out on how to pitch.

"I'm going to miss him. I wish he'd stay in the game, but I guess he's tired of traveling. But he'd make an outstanding coach."

In Key's first season with the Orioles, he was 11-1 with a 2.47 ERA through 14 starts. Though he would surpass 200 innings for the first time since 1993, he faltered over the second half, going 5-9 with a 4.15 ERA in his last 20 starts. Removed from the rotation during the American League Championship Series, he tossed three hitless innings in relief to defeat Cleveland in Game 5.

Jimmy Key's statistics

Yr, Team, W-L, IP, BB, SO, ERA,

'84, Toronto, 4-5, 62, 32, 44 ,4.65

'85, Toronto, 14-6, 21, 2.2, 50, 85, 3.00

'86, Toronto, 14-11, 232, 74, 141, 3.57

'87, Toronto, 17-8, 261, 66, 161, 2.76

'88, Toronto, 12-5, 131.1, 30, 65, 3.29

'89, Toronto, 13-14, 216, 27, 118, 3.88

'90, Toronto, 13-7, 154.2, 22, 88, 4.25

'91, Toronto, 16-12, 209.1, 44, 125, 3.05

'92, Toronto, 13-13, 216.2, 59, 117, 3.53

'93, New York, 18-6, 236.2, 43, 173, 3.00

'94, New York, 17-4, 168, 52, 97, 3.27

'95, New York, 1-2, 30.1, 6, 14, 5.64

'96, New York, 12-11, 169.1, 58, 116, 4.68

'97 Orioles, 16-10, 212.1, 82, 141, 3.43

'98, Orioles, 6-3, 79.1, 23, 53, 4.20

Totals, 186-117, 2591.2, 668, 1538, 3.51

Pub Date: 1/30/99

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